I’m sitting in an IHOP with five friends and a baby. I’m crunched in the corner with bad black bean chili when “Walking on Sunshine” plays on the muzak channel. I hate that fucking song. It’s a message from the universe.
My past couple blogs have been more incoherent and random and although I would like to say that was my point, it was more of an aftershock.
To summarize my ramblings for the past couple weeks, life can get un-stochastic sometimes, too formal and rigid, and to preserve our sanity, we need to drift, we need to explore and act in random ways to break the formulas that hold our creativity captive. We should search out new information outside of and beyond our current interests and knowledge to add to our mental real estate to allow ourselves greater flexibility and improvisational skills. I think of it as a colon cleansing of the mind.
I’ve become more hostile to communicating with the universe since destiny always seems to come in riddles (or perhaps lil ole me is incapable of divining the will of the divine). There is an uncertainty in the universe or perhaps in ourselves (or at least myself) that makes actions almost impossible. Knowledge is unknowable. Systems are chaotic. We can never act with true certainty and expose ourselves to risk on a daily basis. The smallest rounding of a fraction can destroy the best laid schemes. The answer then it seems comes in not taking on the future with certainty but rather embracing the uncertainty, moving away from formulaic behavior and learning to improvise. It isn’t about control but rather how we react in uncontrollable circumstances.
To make an artistic flaw and announce today’s blog topic: I will be talking informatively about the cut-up.
A quick background history.
In the 1920’s, surrealist poet Tristan Tzara started a riot while creating a poem from random words he pulled out of a hat.
In 1959, painter Brion Gysin noticed that some accidental slices into the newspaper he had underneath his artwork formed into an interesting arrangement of words. He had created a verbal collage similar to visual collages.
Beat poet William S. Burroughs was influenced by Gysin’s discovery and collaborated with another artist self-named Genesis P-Orridge who worked more with audiovisual media. According to Burroughs, this cut-up technique was a way of altering reality. Using film as a metaphor, if everything is recorded, it can be edited. P-Orridge more specifically wrote:
Everything in life is cut-up. Our senses retrieve infinite chaotic vortices of information, flattening and filtering them to a point that enables commonplace activity to take place within a specific cultural consensus reality. Our brain encodes flux, and builds a mean average picture at any given time. Editing, reduction in intensity and linearity are constantly imposed upon the ineffable to facilitate ease of basic communication and survival. What we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we touch, what we emote, what we utter, are all dulled and smoothed approximations if a far more intense, vibrant and kaleidoscopic ultra-dimensional actuality.
Cognitively, this is true. Because of the vast amounts of information being thrown at the brain through our senses, we are forced to cut out a large degree of information. We ignore so much of reality and since our everyday lives are made up of boring mundane acts, we filter the boring and focus on the interesting.
The hypersigil or fictional representation of a person’s life then gives the writer the possibility of editing his life. Memory is in essence a recording of the past that is skewed by cognition and emotion. Memory can be edited, trauma undone, and the past retroactively recreated. Don’t tell me you’ve never had a significant other tell you “we never had a relationship” even though you know you did?
Burroughs believed that cut-ups also allowed for divination into the future. In an interesting scene from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the character Ozymandias has a television room made up of dozens of televisions each set to a different channel that changes every 10 seconds. By noticing patterns in the content of the images, Ozymandias is able to predict customer needs for his corporate business. I’ve seen this myself, noticing that every so often for an unknown to me reason, the same actor will appear in multiple movies on different channels at the same time or in a row.
Burroughs also developed a painting technique by setting up spray cans at random distances from a blank canvas and shooting the cans with a shot gun, causing the cans to explode paint on the canvas. Why not just use paint guns, but the idea of random art is clear.
What Burroughs also did was keep a detailed dream diary. Dream resumes are another important aspect of oneself to develop: we spend eight hours a day sleeping. We should use this time to develop ourselves. Keep a resume of things that we have done in our dreams. I like to splice my dreams into my writing. My most powerful hypersigil can from a dream that I worked into a larger work of fiction. Am I the only one who has gotten confused between reality, memory, dreams, and déjà vu, wondering if a certain experience was something that actually happened?
Cut-ups can also be seen as a type of therapy, deconstructing our demons and rearranging them into a more suitable, poetic expressive form.
Automatic drawing and writing are pre-cursors to the cut-up but the key difference is that automatic writing creates from nothing while cut-ups take from pre-packaged content to produce or reveal something new.
Burroughs cites T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land as one of the original cut-ups.
Spoetry is the most current rendition of cut-up poetry. The poet takes subject lines from spam and arranges them into poetry. I’ve tried this: it doesn’t work.
In theory, the best art often comes by accident and improvisation. You cannot will spontaneity but you can use a pair of scissors to introduce it. Cut-ups are a technique to introduce improvisation: prepare to improvise.
Cut-Up Poetry begins with your medium of pre-print, usually magazine or newspaper articles. Headlines work best. Famous poems or song lyrics might work or old love letters.
The simplest cut-up begins with a whole page that is cut into four quarters. The magician rearranges the quarters into a new page and then looks at the juxtaposition of words along the borders of the pages.
More detailed, the magician cuts out words and segments of lines at random and then lays them down together. You will need to rearrange them a bit and snip off some parts to make the transition more coherent.
Too much precision cutting out individual words doesn’t work because it is giving too much control to the cutter. Longer phrases combined with shorter phrases using variation in length of the cut-up works best.
Some magicians recommend splicing in your own works to the cut-up mix. A project I am working on currently is a collection of my favorite song lyrics and poems stream together into one long poem. I’ve removed uninteresting lines so that more powerful segments stick out. My next steps will be to splice these lines into my own autobiography, cutting up the lines to see what juxtapositions occur, and writing new poems using snippets of the lyrics and poems.
The act of cutting up, the power and violence of the scissors, is important. Cut-ups introduce a kinesthetic element to language, touching the words.
Cut-ups can be behavioral as well. One can change one’s life by splicing together two common behaviors into one, for example, the book Recipes for Disaster talks about "Public Transportation and Public Speaking" whereby the magician makes public speeches on subways or the bus. Create a list of ordinary things you do every day and then combine two of the activities.
Here are some good or bad cut-up sites and portals. Just to wrap things up, I decided to create some cut-ups using e-mails from between a lover and me spliced with random selections. The results are below according to each of the websites:
Lazarus Corporation: A portal of cut-up and random poetry generators. A little difficult to navigate.
How does than the MULTITUDES
for left brainers respond
to fold on talk
to express that a gun
is never going to have an incredible
chocolate topic of Jesus Christ
- your worst politicial sweeteners
are pinheads now
Since I could copy and paste the text, it was easier for me to eliminate any garbage meaning. The next cut-up machine was more difficult but I think more satisfying.
Language is a Virus: A portal of cut-up machines and randomizers. Doesn’t allow you to copy and paste your results. Results tend to be garbage with some interesting juxtapositions.
Gun and rope
I needed irish chocolate
The human price
Comes to never stations
Homo Monkey student
To suit God
Say little to write e-mails
To write with knot-tying
My love is mental
End plans were not balanced
May need breaking up
Solid cherry presence
I pulled out information mainly in kennings. While writing this, I needed at times to fill in the gaps. Words joined together but not fully and were often separated by filler words that needed to be cut out. Reading this poem, I saw some interesting Freudian slips. What type of relationship do you think this is?